A decade ago, Trish and I gathered some of our favorite people on earth to our house. We invited them to wear dark clothes, bring dark-coloured food to share, and be prepared to share a real-life story of the past year.
It was our first Dark Party.
Though guests may have looked prepared for a goth rave, the occasion was Winter Solstice, one of our favorite moments of the year. It’s the longest night (or shortest day, if you like) of the year, when the sun hits our planet at 23° 26′, the steepest it’s gonna get.
And Winter officially begins.
If you’re like me, you have mixed feelings about the season’s turning.
I grew up in Minnesota, so the contrast of seasons is a vital experience for my soul. Boiling-hot and humid summers, butt-clenching cold winters, planting and harvest in between. Exhilarating! On the other hand, winter calls me to pay careful attention to my mood, making sure I’m taking my anti-depressant, getting good light and getting exercise (snow shoveling often does the trick).
It is indeed a season of contrasts. My faith heritage celebrates Christmas as the breakthrough of God’s presence. Advent builds to it, Epiphany cools down from it. Most Christ-traditions welcome the light of the world as the highest festival day of the liturgical year. Excepting maybe Easter, depending on if your theology runs more incarnational or resurrectional.
Our first Dark Party came about because our friends and we had a damn rough year, and we wanted to recognize the gifts of the dark. Not desperately wait for the light, not avoid the dark, but to honor the rich stuff that happens when things are bleak, veiled and mysterious.
We sat in a circle and listened carefully to one another speak about the past year. There was a lot of rich silence. There were stories of cancer, divorce, exile, grief and wonder. There was weeping and some laughter, too. There was dancing. On this quiet night, we witnessed for one another the description of deep humanity with all its brokenness and hope-fullness.
At the end of our story-sharing, people were invited to light a candle. Some did, trusting that change was on their horizon; some did not, honoring the mystery of the present moment.
And there was food. (Did I mention the food?) Trish’s famous Edgar Allen Bean Dip, my “fear not the valley of the shadow ” fudge, big blackberries, pumpernickel bread… you get the picture. As a Lutheran, fellowship just can’t happen without a potluck.
Deep breath now.
That gathering remains one of the deepest, wonder-filled, most intimate, truly human and unforgettable moments of my life. As I bring up the faces of those who have joined us over the years, I am touched at the honesty and the open-hearted listening.
How is it with your soul here at the end of this year?
You may have had a hell of a year.
Maybe you have sadness, terror or deep grief. Maybe there are loose ends where resolution is unknown. What you may need is a kind of Dark Party, a moment to be in awe of your life, as crazy as it may be.
May I invite you to call someone to share your story? Or ask your friends to pray with you? Or maybe solitude in darkness would be a true companion for you. Not because gloominess suits you, but because harmony can happen in shadows.
To close, a benediction for you from David Whyte:
When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your womb
The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
You must learn one thing:
the world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
Our family celebrates Solstice because we are citizens of the planet. And because we desire honesty with and from our friends, especially when life is hard and a lot of our culture is about denial. (Lest you think me morbidly dismal, I also enjoy the celebration of light in its time.)
May you receive all the gifts of this season you can bear, whether they be excavated in the mystery of darkness or placed in your hand with the sunrise. Both are the realm of Holy.
And you are right in it.